insurance

5 knocks on renters insurance -- all bogus

4. Catalogue your possessions 

This isn't a requirement of any policy, but it's a good idea for two reasons. First, by using a simple work sheet that most insurers provide, a renter will be able to more accurately determine how much coverage they really need to buy. But the only way to do that is to roll up your sleeves and spend the afternoon taking a good hard look at everything you own. Second, that catalogue (which you should augment with pictures or video once you've bought the policy) will serve as an easy-to-use record in the event of a loss. Just remember to store that record somewhere safe and away from your dwelling.

5. Consider working with an agent 

The truth is that you could buy a renters policy online without ever having to speak to an insurance agent, but you'd be well advised to work with an agent, says Moree. A knowledgeable agent can help you determine the amount of coverage that is right for you and help you find the best deal. But according to Portman, there's another good reason to work with an agent -- clarity. While insurance policies are supposed to be written in plain English, the terms can often be confusing and there's no substitute for being able to ask an expert.

6. Know the limitations of your policy 

While limitations on your policy can sound like a negative, most renters may be surprised to learn that a policy could cover damage or loss to their property well beyond the confines of their dwelling. A buyer will have to check the fine print on their policy, but Moree offers two compelling examples. "Some policies may cover you for losses incurred outside your home," he says.

"Suppose you go to the gym and leave your Blackberry, your watch and some nice clothes in a locker. If that stuff is stolen, it will cost you a lot of money to replace, but it is likely covered under some policies." Similarly, Moree points out some policies will cover you for possessions lost in a car that is damaged or stolen. "You would be wrong to assume that your auto insurance covers the property in your car," Moree says. "But often times a renters policy will cover those items should your car be stolen or damaged in an accident."

While only a few states require renters insurance, and while many renters may never have to file a claim on their policy, there's no getting around the peace of mind enjoyed by those who do have coverage. Theft and catastrophic loss do happen, but when they happen to those without renters insurance or the financial means to get themselves back on their feet, it's only the beginning of the tragedy.

Michael Estrin is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

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